Best Of Blog 2007
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Wednesday 31st October 2007
Ikon Eastide Halloween Party
After um-ing and err-ing about what I could wear as a costume, I finally grabbed something and headed down to Ikon Eastside. The venue is closing for the winter, being a big cold I guess seeing as it's basically a big empty warehouse. However, tonight was a halloween themed party, with 7" cinema, a ghastly Edgar Allan Poe themed performance and of course, apple bobbing!
The performance was for a single person at a time, and took around 5 minutes. I spent a long time queueing, but very pleasantly as there were lots of lovely people around to chat to. Normally I play the butterfly, but it was nice to be a flower for once (if I'm not stretching that metaphor too far!) Unfortunately, as I'd got to about 8th from the front (it was a very long queue), the licensing people turned up and decided that it couldn't go on. Scott Johnston who'd derived the installation did give me a sneaky look at what could have been, and it looked excellent. I won't say too much as they are planning to repeat it, but suffice to say that Mr Poe had a longstanding horror of being buried alive....
Overall an excellent night, though I never did get round to bobbing for apples.
Pete Ashton and Joanna Geary were also about so look out for reports from them.
Tuesday 30th October 2007
Better Browsing with Firefox
The LifeHacker website threw up an article on getting more screenspace in Firefox. I like to see the webpage taking up most of the screen when browsing, and although fullscreen mode (try function key F11 to toggle) is good, I want to be able to see some menus too.
I already have the All-in-One Gestures extension (see slightly bizzare but well communicated demo here ) which speeds things up as I can go forward, back, close a window etc all by moving the mouse and holding down the right button.
What else. Oh yeah for reading text I tend to sit back, and make the text bigger by pressing ctrl-+. You can always shrink it again with ctrl-- (control-minus) or reset it to standard size with ctrl-0 (control-zero).
- I followed a few of the tips in the article - namely Combine the menu and navigation bar which gave me an extra line of space at the top.
- I removed the search bar, as I realised I can type "g giant screaming bats" in the URL bar to google for "giant screaming bats". To do this, right click on it, choose "customise" and drag it on to the pallet of tools which appears.
- I added a similar facility to search Wikipedia by going to the main page, right clicking on the search box and choosing add a keyword for this search with "w" as my keyword. I can now press ctrl-l to jump to the location bar, then "w fish" and I'm searching Wikipedia for fish. This is a lot quicker than how I used to do it.
- I installed the Stop or Reload Extension which combines the stop and reload buttons - you can only use stop when a page is loading and you generally have to stop loading a page before you reload it, so this give a bit more space on the top menu.
Sunday 27th October 2007
Seven Inch Cinema
Nice Seven Inch Cinema at the Hare and Hounds. I missed the first section, but arrived in time for a live set by Broadcast to a couple of the Vertical Features Remake films, which show lots of, erm... well, vertical features. Thing's like rugby posts and fences and young street trees tied to stakes. Broadcast don't seem to perform live very often, so it was great to hear them in action with these specially composed works.
After this, we had a series of 1930's jazz / cartoon films, with a lot of Cab Calloway, including this Betty Boop classic (best bit from about 3 1/2 mins in) which I wrote about back in August 2005. Some of the animation was created by tracing round Mr Calloway, which gives his character some very elegant moves. Also included in this section was a great short showing black Americans (dressed as "house boys" and maids) doing some amazing dance moves, the kind of thing I associate with early rock and roll dance, you know the sort of thing; people swinging each other round, over their heads, through their legs. Interestingly, the passive part wasn't always taken by the woman, which is how I recall the R'N'R version.
I'm not learning Japanese, I just wish I had learnt a bit before I went to Japan. I was wondering if I could pick up anything from watching Anime. I'm watching Witch Hunter Robin at the moment, an anime series a little like Buffy. The theme tune has the Japanese text in Karaoke style, along with English subtitles. The only word I've remembered so far is Oshiete which was translated as "tell me". Maybe this site on Learning Japanese using Anime will help...
Added local journalist Joanna Geary's Blog to the list of BirminghamBloggers.
If you'd like to be added, just let me know - it's kind of "West Midlands Conurbation Bloggers" but that doesn't sound so snappy
Saturday 27th October 2007
StrangeTime Halloween Party
StrangeTime hosted an (optional) fancy dress party at the Actress and Bishop near St Paul's Sq. with Sub-Rosa and cellardoor. Great music, great costumes, and I'm hoping that Dead Kenny will describe it in a bit more detail!
Added walker, environmentalist and commentator Tim Weller's Blog and the musical The Autumn Store Blog to the list of BirminghamBloggers.
Friday 26th October 2007
Cut-up RSS feed
Hmm. Using Page2RSS is great, but as it works by sampling the page at an undetermined time, it can catch me half way through an edit. Also, I've a tendency to re-edit entries to add details and links, so I'm not sure what it will make of this. Time will tell...
Thursday 25th October 2007
Birmingham Opera - La Traviata
Birmingham Opera put on just one performance a year, generally in an unusual venue. This year, it's the National Indoor Arena, last year it was at a beautiful 1930's bank on Broad St.
After a lot of messing about with tickets, having first one too few, then one too many, then just right, then two spare then just right, then, about 20mins before the performance, two spare again, I took my seat in the lower tier, relatively close to the front. A couple of friends who occupied some of the further away, upstairs seats complained of the noise of people talking, eating pop-corn and coughing, but it was relatively quiet where we were! Others in similar seats said it was fine, so maybe they just had a bad spot.
The set was big, which is what you need for that sort of space, and as (part of) the performance had transferred from Verona (where I saw Carmen from just behind the emperor's box!) At the start, a very large foot could be seen protruding from the back of the stage, part of a gigantic doll - think something which godzilla would fight as it attempted to squash Tokyo whilst plaintively repeating "mama". She later appeared on stage in her full glory, forming the basis of a staircase from which our leads descended, and during the second act her piercing blue eyes stared right at our seats from behind the main set.
As we're on set and staging, we also had a giant fan of cards for the nightclub/brothel/ in the 3rd, and the stage floor opened up to form an enormous heart as part of the 1st act. I think I liked the act 2 set for the house in the countryside best - played on a relatively bare floor decorated as a dollar bill, with dolls house which the performers could hug to represent their love of the country, and a bed on which they could show their love for each other
Sound-wise, it was a little hard to hear some of the vocals at some points, but mostly it was pretty clear though you did have to pay attention. I'm not sure how those further away would have fared.
Oh! and of course, there was the cast of thousands. Well, not thousands, but, according to the posters, 240 local singers. The majority of these arrived quite spectacularly, right at the beginning, rushing down through the audience wearing tails and frantically waving tickets in a wonderful bit of organised confusion. At one stage they donned strange yellowy-green stocking masks with short mohicans, and still managed to sing through them. No idea what this mean at all, but they looked a bit like a Fungus the Bogeyman convention!
A great event, and I'd recommend looking out for the next Birmingham Opera performance.
Wednesday 24rd October 2007
Down to the Symphony Hall for the first time in a while to catch long-serving Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore. He's got a wonderful voice, for both speaking and singing, and some nice between song banter. He mentioned that he first played in Birmingham back in 1967, when he was 22, at The Old Contemptibles - still there on Ludgate Hill off Colmore Row.
The place was packed, with many an Irish accent to be heard, and quite a bit of clapping and singing along (mainly when encouraged by the man himself). I was surprised how many of the songs I recognised, my faves included Black is the Colour (of my true love's eyes), Lisdoonvarna and the fantastic Ride On (YouTube ) which made the hair on my arms stand on end. He came back twice for encores of one or two songs, and the crowd loved it.
Sound quality was fantastic - clear as a bell, and volume just right. In fact, I got the first decent recording ever on my mobile phone - normally they're full of distortion and noise, and good only for working out the playlist.
Incidently, Christy has a blog of sorts, updated at fairly spare intervals but with one for today.
My resolution: to see more people who've been playing for 20 or 30 or 40 years, before I've missed them for good. If that's yours too, he's playing Warwick Arts Centre on Sunday the 18th of November.
International Mask Festival
I'd no idea that there was an International Mask Festival in Stourbridge until someone pointed it out to me. It runs till this Sat, and looks to have some interesting performances too.
Upcoming at the Town Hall / Symphony Hall - Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain - once you've heard their covers of
Teenage Kicks and
Smells Like Teen Spirit ,
you'll realise you've got to see them. They played at the Big Chill the year before last and the crowd just wouldn't stop shouting for more - even when the next band came on!
(Bonus Track: Lou Reed's Satellite of Love )
Tuesday 23nd October 2007
YouTube - It's still there (or "great comedy clips")
Adam Bloom is playing the Old Joint Stock tomorrow, and this clip on YouTube made me wonder what other comedians I could find on there.
I saw Adam at Edinburgh in August, along with Glen Wool (here doing a great set on Religion) , Jim Jefferies (here being punched by a random audience member and here actually doing his, actually quite offensive, set ), and Jamie Kilstein ( talking about the war on drugs).
Saturday 20th October 2007
Jeffrey Lewis and The Jitters
I've seen Jeff Lewis several times, and it was great to see him again at the Hare and Hounds. This time, he was supported by Professor Louie who's a great poet/rapper type.
This was a particularly excellent gig, with Jeff, his brother Jack, and a keyboardist and drummer I didn't recognise. The music mixed electric and acoustic guitar, with lots of insightful lyrics - I'd vote Jeff for president, if (i) he stood and (ii) I had a vote in these things!
There were quite a lot of projections, a mix of Jeff's own comic stuff and short snippets of film sent in by fans. One of the songs I like the theme of is I Met a Hippy Girl on 8th Avenue, in which Jeff realises that although he's still a hippy, he doesn't wear hippy clothes any more, in fact he doesn't really look much like a hippy. He also changed the lyrics to mention Kate Goes... fans - Pete was wearing a Kate Goes... t-shirt and I must admit that was my plan too - except I couldn't find it...
Jeffrey Lewis - I Saw a Hippy Girl on 8th Ave
Richard Batsford and Pete Ashton were both there and I suspect they will also write about the gig.
Rich mentioned that Jeff reminded him of Jamie Kilstein , a standup we both saw at Spank during the Edinburgh Festival - I thought the same when I wrote about Jamie.
I left clutching yet another Jeff Lewis t-shirt, a CD of City and Eastern Songs, a single and a comic! I like buying stuff right off the band, because I know the money is going to a good cause and that it's what enables them to stay on tour. I also remember chatting to Jeff at another gig once where he gave me a can of beer from his rider!
I also got a free Dufus sampler CD from someone who's promoting their gig on the 9th of November at the Actress and Bishop - they're not a paid promoter, just someone who thinks Dufus are great!
At last... RSS Feed for this blog!
After various requests, I've finally added an RSS Feed for this blog. I've used the Page2RSS service, as I found that the feed generated from TWiki wasn't really right for the Job.
Stop Junk Mail in 1 Minute 36 Seconds
The mailing preference service blocks junk mail in the UK. It really works as companies are legally required to stop bothering you if you're on the list.
Registration took me 1 minute 36 seconds and lasts for 5 years.
Just go to:
Click "next", enter your postcode, choose your house number and type in your email - all done, no junk mail for 5 years.
Wasn't that easy!
Post this to your blog and help stop the tidal wave of junk mail!
Friday 19th October 2007
Blink Magazine Launch and Plus Design Festival
A who's who of Birmingham's
free drinks/party fans design and arts scene people descended on the Plus Design Festival site (93 Floodgate St, Digbeth) last night for free drinks and music from Poppy and the Jezebels amongst others. Unfortunately, the sound quality for the bands wasn't good , however the festival itself looks greats with lots of nice work on display, and a live pacman game which wasn't running on the night, but hopefully will be over the weekend. Check it out, it's fun and free.
Blink Magazine is the new mag from the people behind the excellent Fused, focussing more exclusively on lifestyle, fashion etc. and aimed at the city living crowd. I had a flick at the launch and it's got the same quality as Fused, but without so much graphic design. Good luck to them, that's what I say!
Tuesday 16th October 2007
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Tribute
Down to the Town Hall again, this time for a Tribute to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, featuring his original band (troupe?) and led by his nephew Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. A torrential downpour led and ensuing traffic chaos led to many of the audience arriving late, but this and the wide mix of ages (from about 2 years old to 90's) gave it a quite a family/festival feel. Quite a few of the songs were from films, and well known to the audience, and some I recognised from Nusrat's recordings.
And the probability is...
Searching Google for "brief encounter rep" to find out when this excellent play finished (Saturday by the way), GoogleAds popped up the following "Right size bra? Are you wearing the wrong size bra? Probability is YES! www.correctbrasize.info". Now I do work in statistics to a degree, I've a PhD in data mining, but I don't think you need one of these to work out that the probability is actually "NO!".
Say the search is done 50:50 by men and women; that not all women are wearing the wrong size of bra; and that very few men are wearing a bra at all, we can approximate the probability of wearing the wrong size bra:
Pwsb = 0.5 * ( proportion of women wearing the wrong size bra )
Let's face it, it's going to be less than 50%. The only question left is whether I should contact the Advertising Standards Authority. Hmmm....
Monday 15th October 2007
Pram, Modified Toy Orchestra and Shady Bard
My first time in the main hall of the newly re-opened Town Hall . As you might expect, the venue has allocated seating, and mine was right at the end of the very front row - not ideal as you couldn't see the band well and we were sat right next to what I think was a bass speaker. However, Shady Bard were great - multi instrumentalists, with three different members having a go on the piano, an array of different guitars and a violinist who also played the tuba (at least I think that's what it was).
After the interval, from which we arrived back a little late, not noticing the signal as we were chatting away in the bar, we grabbed seats a bit further back, which were fine. Modified Toy Orchestra did a stonking set, my favourite being Dark Star which plays with repeating sounds which become the almost silence-like background against which music is played out. Doh! You can't really describe the music, but it was great and in places funny - which is always a bonus to me, clever music is often funny as it sets up an expectation which is then broken. Visuals were great, with almost all of the tracks having a synchronised video, with music from the toys and toy-keyboards/fake guitars laid down on top.
Back from the second interval in good time for Pram, it was really good to see them again. They did seem to have some problems with sound balance (in fact this occurred for all of the bands to an extend), but really came together for the louder and more complex parts of the set. More excellent videos, almost like miniature films - quite spooky some of them, particularly with the masked faces which seem to be a Pram theme. Their new album is out now (or very very soon) so I'm looking forward to getting hold of it!
Sunday 14th October 2007
Upcoming: Modified Toy Orchestra and Pram at The New Town Hall
Modified Toy Orchestra (see Guardian Article ) and Pram plus Shady Bard are playing this Monday (15th) at the newly re-opened Town Hall. It's an excellent chance to see the new building and catch local hero's Pram in a rare live performance. Visuals are by filmficciones and should be stunning!
Tuesday 8th October 2007
I finally did it...
... I paid for something on the internet. Not for goods - I've done that for years, bought CDs, camera batteries, memory cards, mugs, t-shirts and more. No, what I paid for today, for the very first time, was a website based service. I've paid for a flickr account!
So what tipped me over the edge? Hmmm... Well, it's relatively cheap (£1/month); I wanted to put up my pictures from Japan (and ran out of space half way through); I realised that flickr is very well supported by other websites (e.g. facebook application); I figured that if I decide not to pay, I've still got the photos on my machine.
My Blog about Japan covers most of my trip, but I've still got a couple of days to add if/when I get time. Similarly, I'm only half way through selecting and uploading photos to flickr.
Saturday 6th October 2007
My first visit to the new Town Hall to see a short, free set in the basement bar. Infusion are a Birmingham based band made up of people from all over the globe. They played a mixture of musical styles, blending music from Albania, Kurdistan, Congo and beyond. The band leader was great at interacting with the audience and the whole thing was great fun
I couldn't find a website for the band, but they're connected with Sound It Out and there's some more info about some of the musicians on Home from Home Blog.
Friday 5th October 2007
I went for a balti for the first time in ages - I've been kind of avoiding them, having been served some pretty awful stuff, swimming in ghee and lacking in flavour. However, I actually quite liked the food at Diwans. I went for sag paneer with mushrooms and a coriander nan and it was good and tasty and totally lacking the film of oil I'd come to dread. Plus, it was exceedingly cheap!
Thursday 4th October 2007
Written on the Body
My second visit to the planetarium at Millennium Point, this time to see a film by Leon Trimble and Lisa Wetton. Projected on to the dome of the planetarium (or "surround cinema") it completely fills your view. The film mixes a number of techniques, footage Leon's home-grown multi-directional camera made using 5 cctv cameras with 180degree lenses, morphed stills, footage intercut in a ying/yang shape and more. The film features three dancers who intertwine, leap the multi-cam and sway in synchrony. It was funded by the Arts Council, under the Fracture Programme, which united dance and screen. There are still a number of Fracture events / exhibitions running in the midlands.
There's a BBC News article where you can view a clip of the film , though I must admit it didn't work for me.
Tuesday 2nd October 2007
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Being in Wolverhampton for a meeting, I popped into Wolverhampton Art Gallery. In addition to Richard Billingham's Zoo, videos of repetitive behaviour in captive animals there's work by Vanley Burke on slavery and the sugar trade, Veil work about Northern Ireland by Rita Duffy, made from prison doors and glass tears, and of course the permanent and pop-art collections.
Slave bracelets made of sugar
Veil - Rita Duffy
The Sheepfold, Morning in Autum - James Thomas Linnell
Fun with Graphs (Revisited)
One of the advantages of having a blog is the ability to look back and see what you did in previous years. I was having a look at my blog from one year ago and I wondered how the trends I plotted at the time had progressed.
The rise of internet empires
Does Netfame Last?
Monday 1st October 2007
Brief Encounter - Kneehigh Theatre
At the beginning of Kneehigh Theatre's Brief Encounter, there's a sign which says "approved for exhibition to an incurably romantic audience", so maybe that's why it appealed to me.
However it wasn't just the plot, the scenery and stage was excellent, and once again Kneehigh blended drama, romance and humour into a cocktail of fantabulous theatre
Lighting (check out the shadow scene), inventive staging (the three or is it four different representations of trains) and some cute (but slightly bizarre) music and balloon acts set off the deeply emotive, calm and clear acting of our two leads.
I've not seen the film, though I thought about getting hold of a copy last week, but I'm glad to have seen the theatre production first - I always like coming to a plot fresh. However, I plan to see it soon and compare.
Kneehigh are one of my favourite theatre companies, and I saw their Cymbeline twice last year, and Tristan and Yseult the year before.
If you'd like to see them in action, and you really should, Brief Encounter is at the Birmingham Rep until the 20th October and then at the West Yorkshire playhouse from the 24th Oct till 10th November.
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